While We’re Young

While We're Young photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgNoah Baumbach has a unique outlook on life. The director has always had precocious ideas to the point where they become precious. He belongs to that rare club that dares to present quirky New York angst of the white middle to upper class. Woody Allen is the patron saint of these hyper-intellectuals – Whit Stillman and Wes Anderson are the disciples. Those latter two veer closer to a rosy Norman Rockwellian angle where Baumbach, up until recently, was decidedly more pessimistic. The Squid and the Whale was downright nasty. But his attitude changed with Frances Ha and now I feel that Baumbach has taken another leap forward with his worldview. It’s measured and much more layered.

While We’re Young is ostensibly a story about getting older. Noah Baumbach presents us with an aging couple in their 40s. Ben Stiller plays Josh, a documentarian who has been struggling with his obtuse 7 hour documentary for a decade. Naomi Watts is Cornelia, his wife who is struggling to come to terms with her inability to have children. They’re in a rut. Then they meet a catalyst for change in hipster couple Jamie (Adam Driver) & Darby (Amanda Seyfried). They’re vibrant, laid back and spontaneous. Jaime & Darby are down to earth, but they’re nutty too. They have 70s movie posters up on the walls, watch movies on VHS tapes and listen to Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long” on vinyl. There‘s a little subtext here in appreciating something because you actually experienced it as opposed to enjoying something in an ironic sense from afar.

While We’re Young is a movie based on existential discussions. Josh & Cornelia are drawn to Jamie & Darby’s carefree but irresponsible perspective on life. The narrative is sensible and even-handed in a way that endorses everyone’s point of view. The chronicle doesn’t take sides. Their relationship with these free spirits reacquaints them with commendable qualities they no longer possess and forces them to come to terms with how they have changed. These loquacious New Yorkers can be trying at times, but they’re funny too. We see people we know and then we see the qualities of people that annoy us. We see ourselves in Josh and Cornelia as well. I don’t care who you are. Anyone who has ever felt old while observing twenty-somethings as another life form can relate.

Baumbach can make the behavior of these bohemian intellectuals admirable and childish all in the same scene. That’s kind of brilliant. Whether Josh and Cornelia are attending an invite to an impromptu “street beach” event in Brooklyn or an Ayahuasca ceremony, I found myself thinking, “That might be cool” at the idea but when confronted with the reality thinking, “Ok that looks unpleasant.” That’s probably because I have grown up and my perspective is closer to the director’s than the youthful hipsters that populate these parties. Baumbach’s greatest contribution is the way he subverts your expectations. Nobody is the butt of the joke here. While We’re Young isn’t perfect. What drives Josh as a filmmaker is completely unrelatable – to me anyway. But then that’s part of the humor now isn’t it? These are multidimensional people that have genuine good qualities – each and every one of them. They also have components to their personalities that can make them a little insufferable too. In other words they’re human. These characters are more lovable than any I have ever seen in one of the director’s films. Baumbach really has something interesting to say with While We’re Young…and I’m listening.


11 Responses to “While We’re Young”

  1. magnolia12883 Says:

    Even more than her wig in Greenberg?


  2. I will say the price of the ticket was justified for that Peruvian mescaline/Ayahuasca scene. That was downright hilarious.


  3. The humor comes from a rough place inside of Baumbach’s heart and that’s why it works as well as it does. Nice review Mark.


  4. I’m not a big fan of Ben Stiller. He’s just… Ok. I wasn’t sure if I would like this film. Noah Baumbach movies aren’t my favorites. This was pretty good though. I enjoyed it. It was pretty fun. Naomi Watts was funny. 3 1/2 stars


    • There’s Something About Mary, Meet the Parents, Zoolander, The Royal Tenenbaums, Tropic Thunder – Ben Stiller comedy classics, all of them.

      But I haven’t enjoyed his recent work either (The Watch, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb). I’m happy to say this was a vast improvement.


  5. I haven’t seen Baumbach’s films prior to Frances Ha, but that film was definitely on the optimistic side, so it’s interesting to hear about the evolution of his worldview. You’re right that he, Stillman, and Anderson seem to belong to a collective brave enough to unapologetically present quirky New York angst of the white middle to upper class. I like hearing how even-handed the narrative is for While We’re Young and how no one is the butt of the joke. Sounds like a very even-keeled perspective on people who are human with positive and negative personality traits.


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